Police aiming at soft targets

By: Greg Bush*


OPINION: Truck drivers continue to be hounded by the authorities as the reputation of our police forces steadily heads south

Police aiming at soft targets
Police are generally camera shy, except when appearing on sensationalist TV news bulletins.

 

It’s more often than not that truck drivers, especially those doing long-haul, feel they have a target on their heads when it comes to the long arm of the law. One slight slip-up, such as a few minutes over in the logbook, and there goes a week’s wages. No leniency there.

It’s fine to talk about Chain of Responsibility, but is your normal run-of-the-mill police officer interested in travelling down that path? Most likely not.

From feedback we read and hear, the police and/or road authorities only have one aim in mind – nail the driver. Forget that he or she may be under instructions from a boss, or that the driver has been supplied with a faulty truck, even though it may be only a blown taillight or something innocuously similar. The officer only has eyes for the driver.

The National Heavy Vehicle Regulator is meant to be overseeing everything to do with Heavy Vehicle National Law. But try telling that to the officer who is keen to return to the station at the end of the day, boasting about the fistful of infringement notices handed out. Forget about knowing road transport’s regulations, it appears that it’s more about topping up each individual states’ coffers.

What’s interesting is that these officers, especially in New South Wales when going about their duties by the side of the road, become quite camera shy, as far as transport media is concerned. More to the point, they’re not keen on having their photos taken as they do their business. Except, of course, when the video teams from commercial TV programs such as A Current Affair present their usual segments highlighting the 'evils of trucking'.

But truck drivers need not feel aggrieved. Police officers enjoy exercising their right to do whatever they want, whenever they want, even when they may get it wrong and are faced with possible implications for not following legal procedures.

Take outdoor music festivals for example and the unlawful strip searching of underage girls. The NSW police have received brickbats for forcing girls under the age of 16 into a tent, minus the presence of an adult relative or friend, which is required by law. They then set about completely humiliating the youngsters after receiving incorrect signals from sniffer dogs who, as is well known, can often bark up the wrong tree.

Then there’s Canberra rugby league player Curtis Scott who copped a dose of capsicum spray, as well as being tasered, for the sin of falling asleep under a tree. Scott was then handcuffed while a policewoman stood on his ankle, just for good measure.

Stubbornly, the police were intent on following through with their charges, which included one of assaulting police. The magistrate saw it differently. All charges were dismissed and Scott’s lawyer then went after costs and compensation.

For an example of how enthusiastic police can be, take a trip to north-east NSW around summer where the area is swarming with officers. It appears many of these police arrive from elsewhere, most likely from Sydney, volunteering to join the frenzied throng. And why not? It’s like a working holiday in one of the best parts of Australia – and perhaps there’s a few extra bucks thrown into their pay packets for good measure.

So to all you truck drivers who think the police only have you in their sights, there are others from all walks of life out there copping the full force of the law, whether they’ve broken it or not.

A former CEO of the Australian Trucking Association was often quoted as saying "NSW spends four times as much as the other states on road enforcement".

There have been recent calls in the US for the defunding of police. Perhaps similar consideration should be given to the overfunded NSW police force.

*Greg Bush is the editor of Owner//Driver magazine

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